I coach a youth soccer team. The kids are five or six years old, and sometimes they practice great. They stay engaged, they take coaching, they play hard, and they don't fart around out there.
Other times (and, blessedly, this is rare) they don't. They dig in the dirt. They pick flowers. The pick each other up. They karate fight and get stuck repeatedly in the net.
The field we practice on is next to a small urban farm, where the owners keep pygmy goats. You can imagine my success with running practice on the day they discovered that little nugget of information out.
It all boils down to the good and the bad when it comes to repetition. I listened to a great interview yesterday with Buzz Williams, the new head coach at Virginia Tech. He took a $500,000 cut in pay to go to the ACC because he wanted to test himself against the best. He also talked about how much he loves coaching. Sometimes, he says, the practices are better than the games.
It's so true. Sometimes, you sit down to dinner after a good practice and you just feel energized to have coaxed a nice effort out of the kids. You're happy to help them out, and you're thankful that they care about something enough to show up and work hard at it.
Similar lessons apply to writing. If you sit down every day and try to string words together toward some actual purpose, you're bound to experience the highs and the lows. If you have a bad practice (which is what I consider pre-edited drafting), but you stayed after it--even if it's all going to wind up on the cutting room floor tomorrow--then there's still some real value in that effort. Repetition is the cornerstone of mastery, and mastery is a huge part of identity. You want to call yourself a golfer? Play lots and lots of golf.
You have to write a lot if you want to be a writer.
And then there are those days when the words just pour out of you. On those days, you can only hold the blowtorch and let it go (anybody else out there here this song before? Because it's driving me insane, I tell you...insane). Those are the days that put a little pep in your step.
Sure, the games are exhilarating. They're damned fun. But it's important also to never lose perspective on the process as well...